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Research on environmentally friendly method for the production of medicine

Research conducted by Nicolette Sammut Bartolo from the University of Malta’s Department of Pharmacy for the award a Doctor in Philosophy degree specialising in synthesis using green chemis­try has led to the development of a synthetic process for producing medicine that is more efficient and environmentally friendly. The innovative method can be completed in a shorter timeframe and is more energy efficient as it is carried out at lower temperatures.

Dr Sammut Bartolo conducted her study locally with a research team at the department. She also undertook study periods abroad at advanced laboratories of the University of Athens.

The University of Malta’s Department of Pharmacy is contributing to the deve­lopment of green processes by establishing a dedicated state-of-the-art laboratory. The collaboration between the pharmaceutical industry and academia will contribute to further develop sustainable environmentally friendly processes.

Along the years, awareness on the importance of the environment and sustainable development has been on the increase. The need to preserve the environment for future generations has also been recognised by the pharmaceutical industry.  The industry globally is reflecting on how it can contribute towards a better environment by reducing its footprint.

This concern and increased awareness was later translated into the term and concept of green chemistry, which was followed by the introduction of its 12 principles in 1998. Green chemistry is based upon the concept of prevention, instead of focusing on how to treat the waste generated after designing a process.

The University’s Department of Pharmacy is contributing to the development of green processes by establishing a dedicated state-of-the-art laboratory

The principles of green chemistry serve as guidelines to scientists when synthesising chemicals, such as the active pharmaceutical ingredients present in medicines, to devise pathways that have the minimal possible effect on the environment. Embracing this concept and the principles of green chemistry contributes towards a better tomorrow.

The green chemistry principles encourage the use of chemicals that have a lower impact on the environment and the production of non-hazardous waste. Chemicals need to be carefully selected during the design of a chemical process and whenever possible pathways should be selected that lead to the production of by-products that have a low impact on the environment. This is challenging since it poses restrictions on the choice of chemicals to be used.

The temperatures used and time entailed to finish a process are factors that contribute towards an energy efficient and greener process. When low temperatures are used, less energy is required for the process. Energy requirements can be further decreased by developing a process that is completed in a short timeframe.

The volume of waste generated may be reduced by following different approaches when developing synthetic pathways, such as by decreasing the amount of chemicals used in excess and designing efficient pathways that lead to the synthesis of the desired product in high yields.

Other approaches that may be used to contribute to the reduction of waste is the concept of atom economy, which leads to a decrease in waste generated by making use of the majority of the atoms composing the reagents used in the synthesis of the desired product.

Using the green chemistry concept not only contributes to the preservation of the environment but also to the development of a more economical production process. The shift from the classic approach towards a greener one can help pharmaceutical companies become more competitive due to lower production costs.

Energy and process efficiency and a reduction in waste generation all contribute towards cost savings, which leads to the application of these principles not only being of benefit to society but also to the company embracing this practice.

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